BBC News & New York Times & Los Angeles Times – 2008-10-28 19:48:01
Syria Hits Out at ‘Terrorist’ US
(October 28, 2008) — Syria’s foreign minister has accused the US of an act of “criminal and terrorist aggression” over what it says was a helicopter raid on its territory. Walid Muallem said Sunday’s attack saw four US aircraft travel eight miles inside Syrian airspace from Iraq and kill eight unarmed civilians on a farm.
Unnamed US military officials have said the attack targeted and killed a high profile al-Qaeda operative. But the White House has not confirmed or denied the alleged raid. A US official was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that its forces had mounted a “successful” raid against foreign fighters threatening US forces in Iraq.
He said the raid was believed to have killed “one of the most prominent foreign fighter facilitators in the region”.
The BBC’s Kim Ghattas in Washington says the person targeted was Abu Ghadiyah, an Iraqi from Mosul.
He was the leader of a network which smuggled fighters into Iraq and had been put on a US Treasury Department black list in February for funding and arming insurgents, says our correspondent.
The military official quoted by AFP said: “Look when you’ve got an opportunity, an important one, you take it”.
“That’s what the American people would expect, particularly when it comes to foreign fighters going into Iraq, threatening our forces.”
The US has previously accused Syria of allowing militants into Iraq, but Mr Muallem insisted his country was trying to tighten border controls.
Speaking at a news conference in London, Mr Muallem said the raid on the town of Abu Kamal had killed a father and his three children, a farm guard and his wife, and a fisherman.
Mr Muallem said the raid was “not a mistake” and that he had urged the Iraqi government to investigate.
“We consider this criminal and terrorist aggression. We put the responsibility on the American government,” he told reporters following talks with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
He added: “All of them [the victims] are civilians, Syrian, unarmed and they are on the Syrian territories.
“Killing civilians in international law means a terrorist aggression.”
Asked if Syria would use force if a similar operation was mounted, he said: “As long as you are saying if, I tell you, if they do it again, we will defend our territories.”
Referring to the US presidential election, he said: “We hope the coming administration will learn the mistakes of this administration.”
Mr Muallem and Mr Miliband were scheduled to hold a joint press conference, but Mr Miliband withdrew. The UK government has declined to comment on the raid.
• Exclusive BBC videofootage of the site of the alleged raid.
• IN PICTURES: Grief and anger in Syria following deadly US attack.
• HAVE YOUR SAY
Whether they could justify a raid or not is irrelevant. They killed eight people in an unannounced attack on an uninvolved country.
— Michael, Glasgow, Scotland
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US Commandos Led Raid into Syria
Eric Schmitt,Thom Shanker / New York Times
WASHINGTON (October 28, 2008) — A raid into Syria on Sunday was conducted by US Special Operations forces who killed an Iraqi militant responsible for smuggling weapons, money and foreign fighters across the border into Iraq, US officials said Monday.
The helicopter-borne attack into Syria was by far the boldest by US commandos in the five years since the United States invaded Iraq and began to condemn Syria’s role in stoking the Iraqi insurgency. The timing was startling, not least because US officials had praised Syria in recent months for its efforts to halt traffic across the border.
In justifying the attack, US officials said the Bush administration is determined to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provides a rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries’ consent.
Together with a similar US commando raid into Pakistan seven weeks ago, the operation appears to reflect an intensifying effort by the White House to find a way during the administration’s waning months to attack militants even beyond the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Administration officials declined to say whether the emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against camps inside Iran that have been used to train Shiite “special groups” that have fought against the US military and Iraqi security forces.
US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the raid into Syria said the mission had been mounted rapidly over the weekend on orders from the CIA when the location of the suspected leader of the insurgent group, an Iraqi known as Abu Ghadiyah, was confirmed.
About two dozen US commandos in specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters swooped into the Syrian village of Sukkariyeh near the Iraqi border just before 5 p.m. and fought a brief gunbattle with several militants, including Ghadiyah, the officials said.
It was unclear whether Ghadiyah died near his tent on the battlefield or after he was taken into US custody, one senior US official said.
US authorities have said Abu Ghadiyah’s real name is Badran Turki al-Mazidih, an Iraqi in his early 30s who had served as al Qaeda in Iraq’s head of logistics in Syria since 2004. His job included providing foreign fighters with passports, weapons, guides and safe houses as they slipped into Iraq and made their way to Baghdad and other major cities where the Sunni insurgency was raging.
In February, the Treasury Department named him as one of four major figures in that group who were living in Syria. One US official said that Ghadiyah was in his late 20s and came from a family of smugglers in Anbar province in western Iraq. He was also suspected of having led an attack in May against a police station in western Iraq that killed 11 Iraqi officers, a US official said.
Spokesmen for the Defense Department and CIA declined to comment on the raid. On Sunday, a US military official had denied that US military helicopters had played a part in the raid.
In seeking to carry out cross-border missions inside Pakistan and now in Syria, the US government is expected to make the case that these operations will help protect the lives of US troops. It is not clear how far-reaching the White House might be in seeking to apply the rationale, but several senior US officials expressed hope that it will be embraced by the next president as well.
The US military has on occasion mounted attacks on Syrian soil to support its military operations in Iraq, but they mostly have been cross-border missile strikes, and there was a rare case of ground forces briefly crossing the frontier in hot pursuit of insurgents.
In London on Monday, Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Moallem, accused the United States of “terrorist aggression” in the raid, in which Syria said eight civilians were killed.
A senior US official said all the people killed in the assault were militants, and that women and children living with the militants had been left unharmed.
In seeking support in international law for its actions, the Bush administration is joining a list of nations that have cited Article 51 of the U.N. charter, which enshrines the right of individual or collective self-defense to all member states.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.
Senior Al Qaeda Member Killed in US Raid in Syria, Officials Say
Greg Miller and Josh Meyer / Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON (October 28, 2008) — US commandos crossing into Syria in an unprecedented raid this weekend killed a senior Al Qaeda associate accused of funneling fighters, weapons and cash to the insurgency in Iraq, US officials familiar with the operation said Monday.
Abu Ghadiyah, the chief of a Syrian smuggling network who was killed in the controversial operation Sunday, was “one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent, facilitators of foreign fighters going into Iraq for Al Qaeda,” a senior US official said.
The raid was the latest sign that the US is now willing to mount attacks in sovereign nations in pursuit of insurgent groups operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those who support them. Last month, US special operations forces carried out a similar raid in the tribal border region of Pakistan, drawing loud criticism from the Pakistani public and senior government officials in Islamabad, the capital.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said the US committed “criminal and terrorist aggression” by conducting a raid in which seven civilians died, including three children, a woman and a fisherman.
Two US helicopters flew about five miles into Syria, he said, with one landing at a farm while the second provided cover. A villager told the Associated Press he saw at least two men taken into custody by US forces and whisked away by helicopter. He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he feared for his life.
US officials did not say how many people died in the raid.
Abu Ghadiyah, an Iraqi native believed to be in his late 20s, has for several years been a key figure in the flow of foreign fighters and weapons into Iraq, American officials said.
“He comes from a family of smugglers,” said the senior US official. “He seems to have turned the family business toward the movement of terrorists, explosives, weapons, etc., into Iraq.”
That official, along with others, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the operation.
Other than reporting Abu Ghadiyah’s death, US officials offered few details about the raid. Pentagon officials declined to comment. The rationale for using commandos was unclear.
Since the terrorist attacks on America in 2001, the United States has carried out dozens of missile strikes, mostly in Pakistan, but also in Yemen and elsewhere, aimed at killing Al Qaeda operatives. However, almost all of those operations have relied on CIA-operated Predator drones firing Hellfire antitank missiles.
The use of US soldiers carries significantly greater risk and often leads to diplomatic strain, as has been the case with Pakistan.
US counter-terrorism experts described Abu Ghadiyah, who is from Anbar province in western Iraq, as the head of a successful terrorist financial network supporting Iraq’s Sunni Arab-led insurgency and a close associate of Al Qaeda in Iraq leaders.
“He’s the classic example of a terrorist facilitator and financier,” said Matthew Levitt, who from 2005 to early 2007 helped oversee a US government crackdown on Abu Ghadiyah’s financial network while deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Treasury Department.
However, Abu Ghadiyah’s death is unlikely to decimate the network because of its strong funding streams and because other members, including a brother, have been active, said Levitt, now with the Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington-based think tank.
The Treasury Department had previously imposed financial sanctions on Abu Ghadiyah and family members, saying they facilitated and controlled the flow of money, weapons, terrorists and other resources through Syria to Iraq.
The effectiveness of such financial enforcement actions has been questioned. The actions target militants and those providing financial or material support, freezing any known assets under US jurisdiction and prohibiting US firms and individuals from doing business with them.
US officials said Abu Ghadiyah, a nickname for Badran Turki Hishan Mazidih, was appointed by former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi to be the group’s Syrian commander for logistics in 2004. After Zarqawi’s death in 2006, Abu Ghadiyah began working for the new leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub Masri, according to US officials.
Abu Ghadiyah provided and arranged false passports, weapons, guides, safe houses and allowances to foreign terrorists preparing to enter Iraq, Treasury officials said.
US officials maintain that Syria has long functioned as a hub for terrorist financing in Iraq, coordinating the movement of recruits and money between cells in Europe and Ansar al Islam training camps in northern Iraq.
In Baghdad, the Shiite Muslim-led Iraqi government said it wanted good ties with Syria but that Damascus needed to do more to stop fighters from slipping across its borders.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh described the region targeted by the Americans as the “scene for many terrorist activities of the last few months,” including the killing of 13 policemen in an Iraqi border village in Anbar province. Staunch Syrian ally Iran, which holds enormous sway over the Baghdad government and opposes the US troop presence in Iraq, condemned the US operation.
“We condemn any attack which leads to the killing of innocents and civilians,” Foreign Ministry official Hassan Qashqavi told reporters in Tehran.
Miller and Meyer are Times staff writers. Times staff writers Ned Parker and Saif Hameed in Baghdad, Borzou Daragahi in Beirut and Julian E. Barnes in Washington and special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.